Book Review – Crucial Conversations By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

Crucial Conversations written by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, Tom McMillan Al Switzler is a book about dialogue. About having healthy dialogue that generates positive results. But first what is a crucial conversation? According to the authors, a crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. The authors argument in the book is that those who can handle crucial conversations in a skilful way tend to be more productive and in the book the aim of the authors is to show us how to handle crucial conversations well. Hence the book is subtitled, Tools for talking when stakes are high. According to the authors handling crucial conversations properly not only benefits individuals and their relationships, but can be of benefit to organizations and even communities.

This is not a big book as it has 240 pages and 12 chapters. Also it’s not a very visually appealing book as it uses very little pictures and other graphic elements. But it’s written in a very engaging way with a good level of humour and right from the beginning of the book I was laughing. Following is a brief review of what you can expect to learn from each chapter.

Chapter 1: What’s a crucial conversation and who cares? This Chapter describes what a crucial conversation is in detail. It explains the value of being able to handle crucial conversations effectively using some practical examples.

Chapter 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations – The Power of Dialogue – This Chapter explores the power of dialogue which it defines as the free flow of meaning between two or more or people.

Chapter 3: Start With Heart – How to stay focused on what you really want – This is an important chapter which I really enjoyed reading. In relation to handling crucial conversations it looks at three Key skills:

  • Working on ourselves first because that’s who we can control.
  • Focus on what you really want.
  • Refuse the sucker’s choice. Sucker’s choice refers to the actions of attacking or withholding communication as a way of reacting in a crucial conversation.

Chapter 4: Learn To Look – How to notice when safety is at risk – This is a very important chapter as it introduces us to the concept of “dual processing” which is the ability to listen to the content of a conversation and at the same time look out for conditions that may imply the conversation is becoming unsafe.

Chapter 5: Make It Safe – How to make it safe to talk about almost anything – This chapter develops on the previous one. What do you do when you notice that a conversation has become unsafe? You step out of the conversation, make it safe and then step in again. Easier said than done, but some skills on how to do it are offered. Three skills discussed are:

  • To apologize
  • Contrasting which is about fixing misunderstanding through the use of do/don’t statements
  • CRIB, which is an acronym for Commit to seek mutual purpose, Recognize the purpose behind the strategy, Invent a mutual purpose and Brainstorm new strategies.

Using these skills helps to rebuild mutual respect and purpose when they are at risk (leading to a loss of safety) in a conversation.

Chapter 6: Master My Stories – How to stay in dialogue when you’re angry, hurt or scared – Another very interesting chapter with lots of useful information. The Focus here is on the stories we tell ourselves in response to a situation which makes us respond in a certain way. A framework is presented here which shows how we move from experience to action and it goes like this:

  • We see or hear something.
  • We create our own stories based on what we saw or heard.
  • The stories we create make us feel a certain way.
  • We then act on how we feel.

Personally I found this model very useful and it made me reflect a lot on how I feel with various experiences I have. The authors go a bit further by giving us two skills to manage our stories. First they challenge us to retrace our path which is about pausing to examine the story we are telling ourselves and then reframe the story to lead us to healthy actions.

Chapter 7: STATE my path – How to speak persuasively and not abrasively – Even when we create the safety conditions for dialogue, we still need to talk. When we discuss sensitive or potentially difficult topics, we can still talk in ways which don’t help us to achieve what we want to say in the dialogue. Here you will learn about five steps that can help to talk about challenging topics effectively. These five steps are defined by the acronym STATE and they are:

  • Share your facts
  • Tell your story
  • Ask for other paths
  • Talk tentatively
  • Encourage testing

Chapter 8: Explore Others Paths – How to listen when others blow up or clam up – Sometimes it may be difficult to get others to have a dialogue with us because of some history or how people feel about us. The easy thing to do is to back off. But it may be absolutely necessary to have that conversation. A great step to take in such situations is to explore the other person’s path. Simply put, understand the other person’s point of view and perception. Getting people to do this especially when they harbour negative feelings about us can be challenging, so we all need some skills. This chapter presents us with some actions to take in such situations. Firstly we need to be ready to listen and to listen we must do it sincerely, with an attitude of curiousity and patience. We can invite people to tell us their story using four skills described by the acronym AMPP which are:

  • Ask to get things rolling
  • Mirror to confirm feelings
  • Paraphrase to acknowledge the story
  • Prime when you are getting nowhere

If after hearing the person’s path you disagree with them, there are three things you can do which are:

  • Agree explicitly with aspects of their path you agree with.
  • Build on the aspects you disagree with.
  • Compare your path with the person’s if you totally disagree with them.

Chapter 9: Move to action – How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results – The core of this chapter is about teaching us how to make decisions. Four methods of decision making are discussed which are:

  • Command: making decisions without involving others.
  • Consult: collecting input from a group and then a subset of the group makes the final decision.
  • Vote: allowing people to vote to choose a decision.

Chapter 10: Putting it all together – Tools for preparing and learning – This in my own opinion is a brilliant chapter. It is a summary of all the lessons in the book and shows is how to apply them. It has a visual model showing how all the skills fit together and then a section titled, how to prepare for a crucial conversation. This section has a table titled, coaching for crucial conversations, which outlines each crucial conversation skills and how to use it. The chapter concludes with a practical example showing the crucial conversation skills in action.

Chapter 11: Yeah, but – Advice for Tough Cases – This is another practical chapter. It discussed how to use crucial conversation skills with tough cases. Seventeen cases are discussed. Lots of examples to learn from.

Chapter 12: Change your life – how to change ideas into Habits – This chapter contains some thoughts and ideas that can help us master crucial conversation skills and turn them into habits.

Overall I found this to be a highly practical book and at the same time enjoyable. There are lots of skills to learn from this book and I personally think it will be difficult to master all of them. I suggest that you pick at least three key skills relevant to your situation and focus on learning how to use them.

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This week’s book – Crucial Conversations

This week I am curating ideas from a brilliant book called Crucial Conversations. I first encountered this book about three years ago. At that time I struggled to read it. But when my boss at work commissioned a training programme called Critical Conversations for managers, I decided to read the book wrongly thinking it has the same information as the training programme. It turned out they are different. But I’m glad I read the book, as I picked up some really important ideas that can improve my communication with people. 

In terms of curating ideas from the book, I will be:

  • Writing a short review of the book.
  • Curating between three to six ideas that I want to learn and apply from it.
  • Turning those ideas into a book summary and group session that I can use to review the ideas from time to time and teach others.

Idea from Managing Teams – The Obstacle of Poor Team Leadership

Yesterday I wrote about four ideas that I curated from a book I had previously reviewed titled Managing Teams. It is one of the books from the Harvard Pocket Mentor series. You can read my review of the book here. In this post I am sharing with you one of the four ideas which is, the obstacle of poor team leadership.

The Obstacle of Poor Team Leadership

One of the most common reasons why teams may not function effectively is poor or ineffective leadership on the part of the team leader. Unfortunately it is very difficult for a team leader to admit that their leadership is ineffective. In fact it takes a leader with a strong sense of self-awareness and self-honesty to admit they may not be leading their team effectively. For a leader to recognise that they are not leading their team as well as they should, the leader first needs to recognise the signs of ineffective leadership. In that sense here are some questions the team leader must be able to answer:

  • Is participation in my team low in areas such as contributing views and ideas during team meetings and decision-making sessions?
  • Can team members explain the purpose and goals of the team clearly and why they are important to the organisation?
  • Am I as the team leader taking on tasks that should be done by team members?
  • Is conflict persistent within the team?
  • Is it difficult to get the team to make decisions?
  • Do my team members feel I am expressing favouritism towards certain team members over others?

As a team leader if you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, it may be a sign of ineffective leadership. You need to promptly deal with the issue. There are a number of reasons why one or more of these ‘ineffective signs’  may be happening within the team. For instance the team leader may be newly promoted and is still be struggling with leading a team since they lack the experience. Another reason may be that the team leader has not empowered the team members sufficiently to play their roles effectively within the team. Team members may need more guidance and development from the team leader. 

To lead effectively, the team leader will need to balance being directive with non-directive. Directive means being very explicit about what you need the team to do. It’s almost like giving them instructions about what they need to do, when they need to do it and how to do it. Non-directive is more about giving the team little or no guidance because you trust there ability to do something. In this case you tell them what to do, when to do it, but not how. Here are some tips to balance directive and non-directive leadership and consequently deal with the issue of ineffective leadership.

  • Clarify the team’s objectives, which is the what they need to achieve, but allow them to decide how they will do it. But be mindful about team members who will need more directive guidance or when a team task will need directive guidance from you.
  • Encourage team members to rotate leadership among themselves for various tasks so that they can share responsibilities and learn from each other.
  • Hold team members accountable for the completion and quality of their work. From the onset clearly define completion and quality standards.
  • Display commitment to the team’s goals and be actively involved so that you can be a role model to the team.
  • Invest in personal and team development. Give everyone the development support they need to do their jobs effectively.

In the next post I will write a group session that you can use to teach a group the lessons in this idea.

Managing Teams – Four Key Lessons

Managing Teams

Some time ago I reviewed one of the Harvard Business Review Pocket Mentor books titled, Managing Teams (you can read that review here). I revisited the book and identified four key ideas to curate from the book. These ideas describe four obstacles that can hamper team effectiveness and how to overcome them. I have briefly described them below:

  1. The obstacle of low participation where team members don’t participate wholeheartedly in team meetings and activities.
  2. The obstacle of poor communication when teams communicate poorly and prevent the team from achieving its goals.
  3. The obstacle of ineffective team leadership when the team leader is the obstacle because they don’t  lead the team properly.
  4. The obstacle of destructive conflict where teams are experiencing the type of conflict that has negative impacts on the team.

These are four key issues that team leaders and managers cannot overlook and the book gives some great ideas on how to tackle them. Regarding my vision for Justbookideas, I am turning the four ideas into a learning tool that consists of a book summary and  group session that anyone can use to teach others about the four obstacles and how to overcome them. So please watch the space.

Book Review: E-learning and the Science of Instruction by Richard Mayer and Ruth Clark

elearning and science of instructionE-learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth C Clark and Richard E Mayer is a book written to educate instructional designers about best practices for designing effective e-learning courses. This is the fourth edition of the book and it was published in 2016. The audience of the book are those who design, develop, evaluate and consume e-learning and according to the authors, ‘you can use the guidelines in this book to ensure that your courses meet human psychological learning requirements and reflects the most recent research on e-learning methods.

The core purpose of this book is to provide evidence-based guidelines for both self-study or asynchronous and virtual classroom or synchronous e-learning.
This is a large book with 417 pages of reading content. The book has 18 chapters and each chapter is organised in a logical way that contains: Continue reading